Winter in Israel, Part II: Minorities and the State March 6, 2014 5 Comments Share tweet Op Ed By: Op Ed This is the second in a series of three articles written by Aly Cash’16, Jaih Hunter-Hill ’15 and Amrita Rao ’15 reflecting on their experience traveling to Israel over Winter Break on a campus leaders mission sponsored by The David Project. Let us re-introduce you to Forsan Hussein, the Arab Israeli CEO of the Jerusalem YMCA. In his dialogue with us, Hussein emphasized that Israel still has a lot of untapped potential in its minority population. Arabs make up 20 percent of Israeli citizens but contribute a much smaller share of Israel’s GDP. Over half the families under the poverty line are Arab, but there are large discrepancies in government funding for Arab needs, including education. According to some estimates, Jewish schools receive three times as much funding as Arab schools. Most Arab children don’t even learn Hebrew, which makes it much harder for them to find employment in Israel. In an effort to bridge these divides in Israeli society, in recent years a growing movement for mixed schooling is bringing Arab and Jewish students together to learn in a bilingual environment. Hussein’s Yad B’ Yad, or Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education, leads the way in using schools as the first step on the ladder to a well-integrated Israeli society. Social dynamics within Arab communities widen the ethnic gap by stigmatizing women’s full inclusion into society. Amna, an Arab Israeli woman whose home we visited, shared with us her story of fierce dedication to social change. She has firsthand experience of what it means to choose between her father’s wishes and her pressing desire to make far-reaching social change for the Arab Israeli community. As a young woman, Amna had a drive to set a new precedent for women within her community. This took her outside the borders of her village to nearby Israeli cities where she worked, learned Hebrew and was introduced to a new and foreign way of thinking by her newfound Jewish Israeli friends. Today, Amna realizes that her life experiences greatly inform her ability to reshape traditional norms surrounding female autonomy as she educates women within her community about the very things that have made her so successful. On a broader scale, Arab Israelis like Amna sit in the hot seat of the Middle East—not fully integrated into Israeli society, but also denounced as traitors by their fellow Arabs just for staying in their homes and communities. When 1948 peace efforts drew the Green Line (Israel’s border until 1967), the village of Barta’a was divided, with one half within the state of Israel and the other half in the West Bank. Some Muslim men even had to choose between wives and houses on different sides of the line. When the two halves were reunited in 1967 after the Six Day War, the post-partition differences in the two parts became very apparent. Those on the Israeli side looked forward to rejoining the other half of their extended families, but were met with suspicion and disdain by the Palestinian half of Barta’a, who had been taught that Arabs who stayed in Israel were traitors and enemies. Today, Arab Israelis and Palestinians don’t identify as the same community. While in Barta’a, we talked with two Palestinian men from the West Bank working in a fruit stand owned by an Arab Israeli. Palestinian workers often earn less than half of the Israeli minimum wage and have to wait hours at checkpoints while traveling to and from work every day. Though only a few hours away, these men had never been to Tel Aviv because they only had work permits for Barta’a. But when asked if they would want Israeli citizenship if given the opportunity, they said they didn’t need it. They didn’t feel marginalized by Israel or even connected to it in any way, nor did they desire to have a connection to Israel. To them, Israel was just a place that they worked, with wages that, though low, were better than those at home. *** Same-sex rights are a minority issue in Israel that has received a lot of international attention, with the media accusing Israel of “pinkwashing”—using the façade of a modern pro-gay mentality as a public relations tool while policies remain stubbornly homophobic. In reality, these policies do not reflect the social climate that the Israeli LGBT community experiences. While same-sex marriage ceremonies cannot be performed in Israel, Israel is the only country in the Middle East or Asia to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Tel Aviv has emerged as “the gay capital of the Middle East,” as Out magazine puts it, and Israeli same-sex couples can have a marriage that is recognized by the state if it is performed in a country that recognizes such marriages. This policy also applies to any heterosexual couple wishing to have a non-Orthodox marriage, even if they are Jewish. Yet Israel’s Jewish Orthodox community (approximately 20 percent of the Israeli Jewish population) takes a very different position. We had the opportunity to talk to Chaim Elbaum, the first public voice for gay men within the Orthodox community. His film, “And Thou Shalt Love” confronts the Orthodox position on homosexuality head-on. It portrays the isolation of Ohad, a 20-year-old student at a Yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish religious university, who conceals his sexual orientation from everyone except the rabbi who is trying to “cure” him. He struggles between his seemingly contradictory loves for another man and for God. Ohad’s story is Elbaum’s own. Elbaum believes it possible to maintain his Orthodox religion without denying his gay identity. He shared with us his hope for progress within the Orthodox community and his appreciation for the supportive attitude of the secular Jewish community. From Elbaum’s perspective, of course the situation of homosexuals in Israel is not perfect. But in the cases of both Arab Israelis and homosexuals, the minority rights issues aren’t quite what they seem. The official position on both issues differ greatly from the attitude of the people themselves. In either situation, we see internal social issues that the people of Israel are working to improve by themselves, and we do them a disservice and undermine their efforts by exaggerating and redefining these issues as human rights violations Contact Aly Cash, Jaih Hunter-Hill and Amrita Rao at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Forsan Hussein Israel Jerusalem judaism Six Day War 2014-03-06 Op Ed March 6, 2014 5 Comments Share tweet Subscribe Click here to subscribe to our daily newsletter of top headlines.